Not a big reality TV fan, I admit being quite entertained recently seeing my first episode of "Chopped" on the Food Network. This cooking show challenges four competing chefs to create dishes in about a half hour. Each chef must work with the same set of ingredients, but no recipe. They are usually given odd bits such as sardines, or watermelon along with more conventional foods. A panel of judges watches and samples the final creations, then "chops" a loser after each course — appetizer, entree and dessert — leaving just one chef standing at the end.
The secret to winning? It was clearly in using practical creativity and resourcefulness. During the episode I saw, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese had to be used in the entree. This very concept disturbed the gourmet sensibilities of these chefs, but it was fun watching each one trying to make something of it and taking a unique approach.
Something similar takes place with account managers trying to win more share of wallet with customers. Key or strategic account managers must be resourceful like the chefs on the show — by working creatively with available resources and aligning those to fit the demands of their "judges" — their customers. Where chefs decide how to use available food and supplies, strategic account managers (SAMs) deploy people on their teams, gain endorsements from their executives and cooperation from extended staff and other parts of their organizations.
Like musical conductors, the best SAMs orchestrate the resources at hand. They marshal available technology, expertise, processes and plan how to scale these up according to the changing business needs of their customers. In the Strategic Account Management Assocation's 2012 Trends and Practices Study results, the best indicator of a successful SAM was effectively aligning resources from for customers.
Aligning for a customer means gaining a deep knowledge of the customer's business and collaborating with them on what they want, then in turn, creatively assembling the best solution from one's own company. An example in the fleet managment business was when global customers first wanted four and five year agreements that flew in the face of the traditional three year contracts on cars and trucks. With vehicle quality up and the ecomomy down, buyers wanted to squeeze more from the deals. Global account managers had to work through major hurdles with Corporate Legal, their own management and supplier relations to make the change.
When companies are too product or inward-focused as opposed to customer-focused, it may be in part not listening to their own strategic account managers, who must play on both sides of the fence. SAMs are the front line for gaining deep customer insight; but must also communicate inside their own shop, effectively negotiating for the right resources, support and alignment for their customers.